Harris County Commissioner Announce 20.5 Million Pilot program To Address Economic Inequality

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Harris County Commissioners have approved a pilot program that will offer residents of some of the country’s poorest communities a guaranteed income. The initiative would employ federal COVID funding to assist residents earning up to twice the federal poverty level with $500 per month for 18 months.

Harris County Commissioner and Judge announce a $20.5 million pilot program to address economic inequality. (Photo: Andrew Schneider/Houston Public Media)

Harris County’s Economic Disparity Is Being Solved With A $20.5 Million Trial Initiative

The program was approved by a 4-1 vote across party lines.

Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis and County Judge Lina Hidalgo launched the $20.5 million trial initiative on Monday, claiming that it may solve the region’s economic disparity.

According to Hidalgo, Houston is the nation’s second-fastest-growing region, with approximately 3.3 million jobs. She claims that number is also increasing.

“However, not every resident is experiencing extraordinary economic growth,” she explained. “One out of every six people in Harris County lives at or below the poverty line.”

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Harris County’s Family Financial Stability And Income Program Provides Financial Stability To Low-income Families

Uplift Harris, also known as the Family Financial Stability and Income Program, will provide direct financial assistance to low-income families for rent, groceries, transportation, housing and utilities, and care.

Barbie Robinson, Executive Director of Harris County Public Health, stated that financial stability is a factor in health and well-being.

“And so we’re grateful for this opportunity to really move the needle in terms of addressing not just economic opportunity for individuals, but also breaking the cycle of generational poverty,” she explained.

Up to 1,500 households living below 200% of the federal poverty line–roughly $40,000 per year for a family of four–will get $500 per month to help with household expenses.

Previously, other counties in the country established similar pilot programs, though many of them paid more money to participating families.

“It’s a big investment,” Commissioner Rodney Ellis stated. “We did not invest as much as (Los Angeles) County. LA County has 10 million people; we’re about the size of Cook County, but not quite as much.”

Ellis stated that LA County raised funding through philanthropy, while Cook County raised monies through the American Rescue Plan Act, which is comparable to how Harris County’s program will be funded.

“So we’re very grateful to the Biden-Harris administration for providing us with this opportunity and for making ARPA funds available to do this,” Ellis added.

The program, however, may face legal difficulties as a result of HB 2127, sometimes known as the Death Star Bill, a new law that preempts counties’ ability to establish laws.

“There is a lack of clarity around the bill from the legislature and what it actually does,” Commissioner Ellis’ office stated in a statement. “We will not let that stop us from fighting for the people of Harris County and implementing policies that benefit them.”

The trial program is set to begin in September and will last 18 months.

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